A career that Saturday will reach for its pinnacle with an attempt to be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame began quite modestly 20 years ago. Jason Taylor was only a third-round draft pick and reported to the Miami Dolphins hoping to make the practice squad.
“I didn’t know what I was going to be,” Taylor said Friday from his room in this town where the 2017 Hall of Fame class will be picked. “I didn’t know how the NFL was going to work out. I didn’t know if I belonged there yet.
“I heard the NFL guys were making $7,500 a week, or whatever the number was for the practice squad, so I just said, ‘I just want a chance. I’ll be on the practice squad. I’ll cover kicks. Whatever I have to do.’ That was my goal, to get in the league somehow, some way. I had no idea I’d be part of anybody’s game plan on a Sunday or anything like that. That all just worked out.”
It worked out to the point Taylor finished his career No. 6 in sacks with 139 1/2 and today’s he’s No. 7 on the all-time list. It worked out to where Taylor became a team leader and indeed the team’s voice through tough times in the mid-2000s.
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Consider the 2005 season, for example:
It was Nick Saban’s first year as Miami’s coach, and the team got off to a horrible start, which reached a low point at Cleveland with a humiliating 22-0 loss to the Browns. The loss left the Dolphins with a 3-7 record.
Saban gave his seventh losing postgame speech and then asked if anyone had something to add.
It was at this point that Taylor spoke up. And it went like this:
“Never quit!” Taylor yelled as he threw stuff around the locker room. “You never [bleeping] quit! I don’t give a damn if we’re up by 22 or down by 22, you play your [butts] off from whistle to whistle and never [bleeping] quit. If you don’t want to be here, ¦if you don’t want to be a part of this team and give all you’ve got each and every play, then we don’t want you here and we don’t need you here.
“Let me know right now, and you can take your [butt] home, and I’ll pay your salary the rest of the year if I have to. But if you show up on Monday, you better be ready to [bleeping] play.”
The Dolphins flew to Oakland the next week and Taylor collected three sacks, including a safety, helping the team to a 33-21 victory.
The Dolphins didn’t lose again that season.
“I don’t know why I said the part about, ‘If I have to I’ll pay your salary myself,’ ” Taylor said. “Matt Roth told me I scared the heck out of him because I might have hit Matt with something accidentally when I was making my point and throwing stuff around.
“Afterward on the plane, Channing Crowder walks up to me and says, ‘Hey bro, about that whole pay-your-salary thing, were you being for real about that?’ There’s always that one clown that makes a joke of it, but it was funny, and it really broke the ice on the plane.”
Taylor was by that stage far from thinking he might just be a practice-squad player. He had realized that wouldn’t be his career path soon after he arrived in Miami.
“Initially I knew when Jimmy Johnson threw me into to start my rookie year,” Taylor said. “I went from thinking about the practice squad to starting my first NFL game, so I thought that was pretty cool. I had a sack in that first game, so I was like, ‘Man, I might get to do this again next week.’
“It started building and you realize you can compete on this level. You have to develop. You can’t have a certain level of success and think you’ve made it. That was my next challenge, ‘Hey, you can do it. You can be here. But how do you be the best at it?’ ”
Taylor will find out Saturday if he will be considered one of the best of all time.
“I’m cool. I’m fine,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is that I got my two sons with me, and they get a chance to go through this journey a little bit and experience it and be around the guys and be around the Hall of Famers. It’s been a cool ride, and I’m just holding on.”